Guest blog post by Amelia Bryne, ALA OITP consultant, and Craig Gerhart, ICMA consultant.
From 2011 to 2013, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and the International City/County Management Association have participated as part of a coalition of organizations to develop benchmarks for public access technology through libraries. Individually, Craig and I have supported the Edge Initiative by researching key practices in benchmark development, how to best communicate the results of an assessment against those benchmarks, and the importance of bringing library resources to bear on large-scale community-wide challenges.
Libraries have a long history of developing and working with standards and other guidelines to assess and improve their operations. Virginia’s Planning for Library Excellence standards (PLE) is one example of library standards developed at the state level we reviewed in the process of developing the national Edge benchmarks. PLE offers guidelines related to multiple aspects of library service, including governance, funding and administration, public relations, staff development, technology, and so on. Guidelines like PLE are useful because they can help communities and libraries answer questions like: Where is our library doing well? Where is there room for improvement? What are reasonable targets to aim for?
We reached out to Carol Adams, assistant director of the Library of Virginia, to learn more about how they had set levels of achievement for libraries that varied widely in size, budgets and resources. The conversation took a different turn than expected. Carol talked less about how benchmarks should be designed and more about the importance of community engagement.
Benchmarks like Edge typically give organizations some way to assess where they stand related to best practices–in this case best practices related to providing public access to technology. This is helpful, but in terms of reaching Edge’s larger goal that all people should have opportunities to enrich and improve their lives through open access to high-quality technology services provided by public libraries, Carol emphasized that civic engagement is crucial for libraries. This includes speaking with stakeholders like local government, business leaders and parents about what the community aspires to and values. As public institutions, libraries are both intended to serve their communities and are funded by them.